Standing in Place: Back Home from Travel

Election day with the Perfect Kid. We live in opposite corners of the same building. Coincidence?

For more than six years, we’ve been ‘location independent,’ traveling constantly all over the world, without a home or even a home base. I’ve never in these six years completely unpacked my suitcase and I’ve proudly identified myself as a full time traveler.

I don’t take these years for granted. Being free of stuff is a high unto itself. We’ve been able to travel inexpensively, and even earn a little. And we keep going. The more we travel the more we want to see and do. Inertia has taken over.

But now we pause, and I’m finding myself unsettled in a new way.  The defining moments of 2016 weren’t on the road, but at home and in my head. Notable events this year, bringing me to this juncture, include:

    • We learned we were going to be grandparents. Happy news!
    • We were advised (by the soon-to-be Dad) that we should find a new place to crash when we are in Minneapolis. (We wrote about our Boomerang Parents experience a couple years ago.)
    • We therefore bought a condo. More on this below.
    • We tried unsuccessfully to move everything out of storage. Our piano, rugs, stray furniture and all the Christmas decorations still reside in storage.
    • Prince died. I listened to his entire catalog as I sorted through stacks of business and personal boxes.
    • We shared our new tiny home, such as it is, with our adult daughter taking a break from her own home. Not quite deja vu.
    • Yes, our first grandchild, a boy, was born in June. We were out of town.
    • I tore the meniscus in my right knee. Or should I say it tore itself? (I spent the next three months dropping in and out of PT, traveling with some pain, and wondering why I’m not enjoying the travel as much as usual.)
    • My nephew’s wedding is a happy day, but it accentuates the absence of my siblings (gone since 2008 and 2010) and the fact that I don’t have a big house to entertain the extended family and new offspring.
    • The election happened. Even friendly family conversations become stressful. Why are we arguing when we agree?
    • The dirt lot across the street sprouted a new 6+ story apartment building. Construction starts at 7 a.m. Watching the workmen and heavy machinery passes the time. Our north facing apartment grows darker.
    • My holiday expectations didn't jibe with my living space.

Sure, some of these milestones aren’t exclusively mine. The rest of the world shares the big losses in the music world, the off-kilter political atmosphere. I have no claim on low spirits and a bad attitude, when the prevailing mood among my friends seems to vary from despondence to anger or fear. I hear all too often, ‘let’s not even talk about it.’ This doesn't help my feeling of isolation.

Readers might compare this to the active art of ‘sheltering at home' we all experienced in 2020.

standing in place mid travels
Our place is less than a mile from the Mississippi, the river that has run through my entire life.

More surprising to me is the difficulty I’ve had calling this new little place home. It is small, but has so many advantages. We are down the hall from our beautiful grandson. We’re close to light rail. We have our own entry to the street, so it feels more like a townhouse than an apartment. We can walk in the neighborhood, bike to the river, and park our car in a garage. We have a kitchen, a fireplace, Wi-Fi, and electrical outlets and plumbing that work. Our utility bills are next to nothing. And we can easily clean out the refrigerator, lock the door, and be gone for weeks on end. Which we will continue to do.

Now, in December, ten months after moving in, we’ve probably slept here a total of ten weeks, and half of those in the past two months. Admittedly we’re not on a fast track to getting settled in. Still, I didn’t account for the long, long process and roller coaster of emotions as we tried to fit 100% of our goods into 20% of the space. As much as we got rid of in 2010, as much as subsequently found its way to our children’s homes, as much we left in storage…we are still faced with too much that doesn’t fit into our condo or our lives any more.

Great River Road, Mississippi River between St. Paul and Minneapolis
It's easy to visit the Twin Cities in October

Then there’s the little stuff–the boxes of books, photos, personal and business archives. To take inventory, every box must be opened, every memory acknowledged, shared, set aside, or abandoned for good. I attempted to open every box, and I filled a few more trash bins. But I never did find that photo of me with Prince at the 1983 Minnesota Music Awards.

We generally acknowledge the fact that we hung on to some things we shouldn’t have, and let other things we cherish slip away. In this process, we’ve reclaimed some favorite things to display in this house, hanging a fraction of our art, and filling shelves with a quirky selection of books we could not part with.

a place to knit
Entangled in domesticity for a change

Some of my ambivalence toward this condo is surely caused by those darn visions of sugarplums. The holidays always prompt me to imagine the best Christmas decorations on the best tree, and hours (in my mind) sprawled out on the floor at night, gazing at the tree lights reflecting on shiny baubles and miniature nativity scenes. I can’t help it, really. When we first walked into our big old house as potential buyers almost 18 years ago, I imagined living in that home at this stage of my life, with grandchildren playing under the 10-foot Christmas tree, or maybe a wedding procession down the front hall stairs. Yes, dreamy stuff like that, because it was as familiar as my grandparents’ house, and it begged for future generations.

Of course, being in Minnesota will drum up those family holiday visions much more vividly than, say, spending the season in Bali or Spain. Expectations needn’t be that high. This year, we have a home; it's just not conducive to Christmas trees or gardening.

As a new-again homemaker, I can tell you that grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning are skills that take time and improve with practice. I’m off to a rocky re-start. My travel identity is clashing with my homemaker self; my mobility is offset by my creaky knees; the acceptance of this home is hindered by my own nostalgia for the old homestead. We exchanged the family home for our traveling lifestyle, but its memory is now wrapped in the loss of the music and hope that framed our years there. (Hey, we'll always have that Obama election party to look back on.)

As we return to travel in January, we’ll regain some of our travel mentality. When we travel, we expect that a lot of circumstances are simply out of our control, and we're more patient for it. (If we don’t like it, we leave.) At home, we suppose we're in charge of our environment. So the pressure builds to make things right.

cooking for ourselves
Cooking for ourselves in our own kitchen: how novel.

Just in the past couple weeks, the kitchen here has finally opened to family dinners. It's a wonder and  joy to see the kids come in the door, to have them take what they want from the refrigerator. This is a new era, and this, too, is temporary. It’s hard to say how long we’ll be living in this place I call our Landing Pad, and how frequently we’ll visit. The people I love the most live here, they tell me they are glad to see me more often.

The laws of inertia work both for a body in motion and a body at rest. We'll see what forces play on us in 2017.

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37 thoughts on “Standing in Place: Back Home from Travel”

  1. We downsized to create a ‘landing pad’ from which to travel. Lots of decluttering before the move, a commitment in Australia 7 months after the move. Now back at the house, and yes the daily minutiae of shopping cooking and clearing up is hard to deal with. In a much smaller space and after staying in bigger houses when house sitting or motel with no chores. I love being able to see my grown children but how I miss the nomadic life. We made Christmas a holiday by renting a house (we simply could not entertain in the small house) and that was the best solution for all of us. It became an adventure and a stressless holiday. We have major building work planned so have got ourselves booked for a house sit in the UK – in an emergency we can pop back to the building site, and are also feeding our nomadic souls while providing a solution to being homeless for three weeks. And helping out fellow travellers by caring for their home and pets. It is how we see our life going forward. I am looking forward to having a space where my friends and family can enjoy our home and our food. Yet I know I need to continue to travel and wander slowly, meet new people, see new things and grow. And in the meantime, the photographs still need to be sorted, I have a shed full of furniture that won’t fit in the small house, we have just sold the 500 strong vinyl collection and the speakers and deck. It was tough. It was the right thing to do. Now to figure out a way to earn money while travelling. And plan the move to a warmer clime.

  2. What an interesting blog post and one I suspect that many travelers like us who never fully unpack their suitcases can relate to! In our own world we are grappling with what to do with our foot-in-two-worlds lifestyle. Our Pacific Northwest home, our base and our grounding for the last 30 years, sits empty more times than not these days as our Greek adventure calls us to that Stone House on the Hill of ours there. We add in our timeshare lives and really do wonder why and how we keep this home in Seattle (the market is soaring, we could cushion the travel budget and then some) yet as we look around at the accumulations – both physical ‘stuff’ and the memories stored here, we are reluctant to leave. The positive thing about the dilemma is that it is a positive dilemma. We aren’t faced with moving to an ‘old folks home’ or one of us (knock on wood) isn’t suffering from dementia or life threatening disease. Our brains are still working and we are able to plan trips and hike through an airport with an overweight suitcase. Still, we can’t help thinking perhaps it is time to think of moving forward. . .you’ve given me comfort in knowing that others are struggling with similar issues and learning to adapt in this ever-changing lifestyle we’ve chosen for ourselves! Happy New Year~

  3. Such an interesting and relatable read. I’ve often wondered how ‘grownup’ digital nomads cope with all the changes you are speaking of: family additions/subtractions, health concerns, the desire or need for more stability in later years. I’ve always admired people like you who travel full-time, while at the same time knowing that Henk and I will always need a ‘Landing pad’, regardless of how much we love to travel. (and yes, it will always have a Christmas tree, too!) Part of the time, I think this is a fear that hinders our ability to be more successful travel bloggers, but other times I realize that there is no one single solution for everyone, and whatever works for us is okay, too. We may never achieve some of the heights of others, but as long as we’re happy with our own situation, that’s all that matters.

    Good luck with the re-boot and your continuing travel adventures. Happy New Year!

    • I like the idea of ‘reboot.’ It applies well here. The professional blogging part of the equation is really important to this process. I’ve been trying to expand my definition of travel writing, and just hope that the site and our audience goes with the flow.

  4. Oh my. I can relate to every word here. Your blog post fills me with a sense of recognition, relief, and a little bit of despair. Peter and I are in a similar dinghy. (I would say boat but we are downsized too.)

    Seems we are also on a parallel timetable. Peter and I closed on our Minneapolis townhouse April 30th. We were, in fact, en route on the move from San Francisco to Minneapolis when Prince died and are equally despairing about the death of hope, change, and democracy.

    Is it depression or despair? Or, has living a nomad’s life has made me unable to commit to owning things? I shop but see nothing I want to buy. Nothing seems to fit, including us. In the 6-months since our home purchase I’ve not bought a single bit of furniture. Our house is embarrassingly empty; except for a table, an old sofa and chairs scrounged from Freecycle we’d be warehoused here like the unopened boxes filled with our old life.

    Sigh…So much for settling down and trying to live like normal Americans. Normal isn’t what it used to be if normal means accepting the leadership of someone like DJT. I’m keeping my passport handy and all options open once again. We’ll probably see you out there somewhere soon, back on the road.

    • Don’t know whether to laugh or hug you. Want to buy some furniture that won’t fit? Let’s touch base later in January so we can talk each other off the ledge, or back onto it, whichever seems appropriate for the day.

  5. Thank you for your reflective post. As you showed, doors continuously open and close throughout our lives. Congratulations on your new grandbaby and good healing to your knee. Condo living isn’t so bad–it’s definitely easier to leave behind when you hit the road.

    • That is so true, Pamela. We have ultimate flexibility. Even our dog is safety adopted by our daughter, but available for snuggles when we’re in town. We’ll turn the key and walk away this week without having to stop mail or anything: we already manage everything online.

  6. I think we’re about the same age. Judging by how your post resonates for me even though we have never been nomadic, I think we’re going through one of those phases —like the Terrible Twos, Puberty, Menopause. Among the true Baby Boomer nomads, you’re not the only ones I know who have now invested in at least a “landing pad”. Through my own orthopedic issues (shoulders), I’ve realized certain experiences are no longer a realistic option—could I do the 5 day hike in New Zealand with a backpack that we did when I was 47, now? I consciously planned a month away this winter that wouldn’t require us moving every few days like we have on past trips. On most of our travels, at some point, usually while having to walk fast between distant airport terminals, we look at each other and say, “We better travel while we still can”. We’ve also done the jettisoning the family home thing to downsize. It was a wonderful place for family gatherings—6 bedrooms, so plenty of room for out of towners. Now, if you want to stay with us, you’re looking at an aerobed in a windowless, small room. When I visit my 91 year old mother, I see the handwriting on the mortality wall—assuming we don’t succumb earlier. But, before then, we’re leaving for 2 weeks in Hawaii and 2 weeks on a cruise to the Sea of Cortez—while we still can.

    • “Travel [or fill in the blank] while we still can” is a mantra we share. Nothing wrong with that sort of motivation. Tom’s mother is 91, too, and visiting her home in Iowa is another regular stop for us. I’m pretty sure it exists in another dimension, so I couldn’t even begin to include that longevity and mortality angle here. On the other hand, I’ve outlived everyone in my immediate family and am already older than my mother, sister, and brother were when they died. There’s motivation in that, too.

  7. I’m in the midst of all this downsizing and some days just find myself walking around in circles. It’s overwhelming, especially for someone that has run two different businesses out of the house. TOO MUCH STUFF! And I always worry I might need to some day. Needless to say, I haven’t made too much progress and with an April deadline looming, anxiety is setting in. An then of course where are we going to go. Needless to say, I feel your pain and hope you’ll be able to talk me off the ledge. Change is really not easy for many, but I know deep down it will all work out. Won’t it!?

    • Funny that before I read this, I used the ‘talking off the ledge’ expression replying to another comment here. Some days, yes, I feel the same unaccountable depression. All that sorting simply can’t be done in one–or two–goes. There’s nothing wrong with relegating a portion back to the dark far reaches of storage. And a day here and there acting as a tourist in your own town can help put things in perspective. Good luck and keep me posted.

  8. I found myself nodding my head as I read your words since I’ve had many of the same experiences and feelings. We shed our home and stuff, career identities and reliable paychecks to travel full-time for 3 plus years and then, because of health issues, looked around for a place to call home. We don’t fit any longer in the US (and even less so after the election) and, having fallen in love with Portugal, have claimed our new identity as traveling expats. But, here in our lovely rented apartment, I find myself buying only things that I can give away with no regrets, petting other people’s animals because I don’t want the commitment and avoiding even the hint of domesticity that a houseplant would require. As much as we like having a home base, I find myself scouring the flight deals, checking out the train schedules and voraciously reading travel blogs. I miss the feeling of following a road that leads to places I haven’t even thought of yet. The song, “Should I stay or should I go” keeps repeating …

    • Anita! We have been playing the same soundtrack! I listened to The Clash more than once while writing this post. Best regards. Hope to visit you in Portugal–or run into you somewhere along the line.

  9. A very interesting meditation on the next phase of your life. Thank you! We’ve already bought out next house that we’ll downsize into in the next couple of years. The kids (our one kid who is still home, and two foster kids) should be out by September. This house, the one I’m sitting in right now, is far too big without the kids. And while it holds some great memories, it’s not very pretty; just a bigger-than-average Dutch rowhouse, built in 1980 (yes, avocado tiling!). So with that in mind, when the housing market was way down, we bought a tiny house much closer into the center of the city. Off-street and absolutely charming, built in 1880. But I share your concerns: how will we manage Thanksgiving dinner? or our annual New Year’s Day open house? We expect to spend most of the year traveling, but will that house ever feel like home?

    • It’s sounds like you’ll make the change gradually and gracefully. I do believe skipping the storage unit phase will make things easier. But then again, maybe that (the storage unit and the long nowhere phase) provided a holding pattern until we could go to the next level of sifting and tossing. It’s all good!

  10. Very nice refection of our lives as travellers, Kristin. I love nothing better than a good trip. but I also cherish the time at home with friends and family. I’ve never been without a fixed address as some travellers choose to live. But I think I could do it, as I am less attached to things and possessions than I am to making and nurturing great relationships and living in the moment.

  11. I love this post. No wonder it won Gold! And it is the stage I am in, I fully relate. I have just rebranded my blog Carolina: Cruising Past 70. But I see now I have to write better like you do! And you say you have a difficult time. You are showing us how!

  12. This is a great post and l enjoyed it very much. I can see why it won the award. I also have a harder time writing personal stories and admittedly, I rarely publicize them once published. When we decided to sell it all and travel, we did so with an eye towards a home base, I just need to have someplace to come back to after traveling, plus we had our 2 dogs with us. It was definitely scary though giving up the steady paychecks, but we wanted to wander and take a bite out of life.

  13. A very honest post that definitely resonates with me! I find it tough to leave the grandkids so now travel with mine and that has been a fantastic experience. As I get older I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to keep that up but it’s been a way to balance travel and family.

    • Or maybe the family travel balance will be affected more by the aging of the grandchildren than your own! We’ve done one trip with an infant grandson so far, to Italy and Croatia. Ready for more.

  14. This is a very moving description of some very mixed emotions. Thank you for sharing it. We’re in the middle of a two-year process of downsizing into a much smaller place. Slowly we’re going through our stuff and deciding what has to go and what has to fit into the new place. It can be a pretty confrontational process.

    • A two-year process sounds luxurious, as we sold our house too quickly (not bad!) and had to clear out in 5 weeks. So we made a lot of dubious decisions. On the other, two months may just prolong the agony! Good luck!

  15. I can identify with this, as I am trying to sell my house and get rid of as much “stuff” as possible. I really want the freedom of not owning a house, yet I wonder what it will actually be like!

  16. Coming back for a visit a year later and what do you know-I am still walking around in circles. Several dumpsters and car loads of donations later, we are so much closer to our goal that will hopefully happen this spring. Now my parents are moving as well. Today I sorted thru photos of my Mom’s travels and it was divine and bittersweet! Your post still felt very fresh and au courant for we transitional boomers. And yes, I do find the more personal posts much harder to write, and hope to find the time to focus on more of them in 2018.

    • Thank you, Alison. It’s interesting to look back on the comments as well as the post, and realize how we’re all progressing, sometimes imperceptibly, in the same general direction. Best regards!

  17. After a few weeks of being back home from travelling, I start getting restless and want to get away from all the “stuff” and the drudgery of housekeeping – the next trip never comes soon enough. Yet on the other hand, while the idea of being a nomad sounds appealing, I think that a part of me will always want a home to come back to-especially since we too will be first time grandparents soon. I keep working on getting rid of the “stuff” – a thankless job – but then more of it comes into the house as yet another parent gets ill and moves into a nursing home. Eventually I’ll reach a balance – and until then, as long as I can keep travelling every few months, I’ll be happy.

  18. Thanks, Rose. I guess as I think back to our first ‘cleansing,’ selling our house back in 2010, I realize that this all happens in cycles. There is no finish line to the reducing and tossing program, just another stage of it down the road. This way I feel more comfortable and less obsessed. It’s helpful to know you’ve succeeded in the first steps, making room for the next.


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